TITLE: “Hang on? – come unstuck, detach, unfasten, free. Why reconstruct, whose ideals?” 2009
This particular photography by Tracey Derrick simply refused to fit into our graphic designer’s template – so it was decided the photograph would be most powerfully appreciated shown – purely – on its own.
How do you feel looking at this image?
How does it resonate with your own experience of mastectomy and the decision to opt for either reconstruction, prostheses or go completely breast-free?
Within the South African public health space, the bare minimum of breast cancer treatment options are very often not even managed – so how do our public health survivors navigate their post-mastectomy recovery where even one breast prosthesis costs R700?
Reach For Recovery is “a breast cancer support organisation with a unique focus on breast cancer support and one of the only organisations that provide a patient support service on a national basis. It is built on a simple yet universal principle: that of one woman who has experienced breast cancer herself giving freely of her time and experience to assist and support another woman with breast cancer.
Well-selected and trained volunteers, who each have experienced the breast cancer journey, render an emotional care and practical support programme to newly diagnosed breast cancer patients and their families.”
The Ditto Project aims “to help these women who come from very low income groups to feel confident again after the traumatic diagnoses and surgery through our Ditto Project… and aim to assist them with a silicone breast prosthesis.”
For SUPPORT: get in touch with Reach For Recovery by clicking here!
To VOLUNTEER, click here!
To help support The Ditto Project, click here!
In this image of Tracey Derrick with her two young daughters, she managed to capture so much more than mere words are able to convey… What did your heart bounce back to you when your eyes beheld this trio of warriors?
TAKEAWAY: “How To Tell Your Young Children You Have Breast Cancer”
“Myself as Subject
Documenting myself began during my mastectomy operation. It was the first time that I had ever had surgery and requested the surgeon and nurses to take photographs of my operation.
Afterwards in hospital I had a borrowed digital SLR camera with me. This simple act of holding a camera helped me feel more secure and that possibly I had some control over the situation.
This was the beginning of participating in my own recovery from cancer and the first time that I had ever used a digital camera.” ~ Tracey Derrick
After chemo, Tracey wrote in her seminar paper about her hair:
“Then the hair dies. Initially, it feels as if one’s scalp is burning as the roots die, then the hair falls out. The first handful is an alarming relief; it is happening as you have been dreading that it would. The boundaries between public and private begin to melt, for all to see. My hair had been a physical, public security – it identified me and I felt naked without it. Then one experiences the head sweating constantly with no layer of hair to absorb it; the body chills quickly with no hair to warm it. As the hair on the rest of the body slowly falls too, all borders between inside and outside are laid bare.
Stacey describes it well, “the loss of pubic hair reveals what has remained hidden for years. Returned to pre-adolescence and yet prefiguring an aged body, time has nothing to tell. The nose runs without any tiny nostril hairs, sweat runs into eyes without eyebrows or eyelashes to catch it. Ears are tunnels for flies and insects to enter at their ease. The hairless body is uncannily silky smooth to touch, a familiar, yet strange state. A return to childhood and yet an inevitable ageing. A big bald baby but with adult organs”. (1997:84).
Physically and emotionally this “was me” but when I looked at myself in the mirror – was it me? I photographed myself repeatedly during this vulnerable time as an attempt to regain some power over my situation.”
Continuing the thread of thought from Tracey’s seminar paperwe quoted yesterday, read about photo therapy/therapeutic photography and how Tracey made it work for her!
Spence uses the term ‘photo therapy’, which she explains is using photography to heal ourselves. It is about transformations and change and thus challenges the fixity of the photographic image and the search for an ideal self.
Spence and Martin use a kind of internal permission giving: permission to change, to re-view, to let go, to move on.
“Ways in which I have used the camera therefore include taking naturalistic photographs as things happen to me and around me; staging things especially for the camera; using old personal photographs and re-inventing what they mean. The whole technique depends upon expecting photographs to help us to ask questions, rather than supplying answers”.
This helped her with breast cancer and she says, “As a result I see myself neither as a ‘heroine’ or ‘victim’, but merely as a person in a struggle, changing and adjusting daily, and trying to keep a state of equilibrium which will allow me to function optimally, at the same time as I strive to regain health”. 4
“Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean.”
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“So, my future was clouded by new uncertainties – what are my chances of survival? The body tells a new story and so demands a reinterpretation of recent life history.
“Is it no longer to be trusted? Why has it withheld such crucial evidence? Whose side is it on anyway? While the mind has been full of stories of life, the body has been planning another story: the threat of death” (Stacey: 1997:5).”
Did you experience a sense of betrayal at your diagnosis? How did you process these feelings?
TAKEAWAY: Episode 1, Act 1 of ‘I Am Woman Leap of Faith’ where Tracey Derrick is confronted with a turning point in her life and has to make the ultimate decision.
‘I Am Woman Leap of Faith’ television series: produced by Lauren Groenewald and Miki Redelinghuys of Plexus Films & Lisa Chait (www.lifestories.co.za).
The exhibition catalogue for Tracey Derrick’s 1 in 9 project begins with these words:
“One in nine women contract breast cancer in South Africa. This statistic takes
into account the high prevalence of HIV and TB.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2008 and this project was undertaken
in response to my illness, its treatment and my survival. I am ‘one in nine’ and
as the active subject of my own investigation, it helped me understand my own
condition and integrate it into my life.”
How do you feel about photographs of yourself taken before your diagnosis?